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Dublin: 11°C Monday 19 April 2021

Job done! Doyle, Pearce ensure that Ireland warm up with a win

Ireland beat Oman 2-0 in the final friendly before their Euro 2016 campaign begins.

Alex Pearce's second international goal wrapped up Ireland's win.
Alex Pearce's second international goal wrapped up Ireland's win.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ireland 2-0 Oman

IT WAS ALWAYS likely to be a low-key affair but nonetheless, Ireland will kick off their Euro 2016 qualification campaign on the back of a win.

Now the real business begins.

Kevin Doyle and Alex Pearce scored a goal in either half as Martin O’Neill’s experimental side beat Oman 2-0 in front of an Aviva Stadium crowd which was officially put at 14,376.

To the naked eye it looked to be a lot less but that was a side issue.

O’Neill made it clear this week that Sunday’s competitive opener in Georgia is his top priority, bar none, and that this game was little more than a road-test.

His team selection reflected that as he left the bulk of his first-choice players on the bench and instead handed the fringe players a chance to impress.

Ireland supporters at the game There wasn't much of a crowd in the Aviva Stadium tonight... Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Wearing the unfamiliar number 26, Shay Given made his return in goal more than two years after announcing his international retirement. He had precious little to do, although the first meaningful touch of his 126th cap drew an appreciative cheer from the crowd.

Given spoke earlier in the week of how tonight would almost be like a “second debut” for him, and it was big night too for Darron Gibson who made his return from the cruciate injury which had sidelined him for over 10 months.

If there were any lingering worries in Gibson’s mind he didn’t show them, not least when he cleaved Eid Al Farsi late on and picked up the only booking of the night. It was his last contribution but the 70 minutes will stand him in good stead.

Among the others, O’Neill will have watched the performance of Robbie Brady with particular interest. James McClean has been an injury concern all week and earlier today, he withdrew from the squad to return to Wigan for treatment on an ongoing ankle problem.

It gave Brady extra incentive to impress on his first start since O’Neill and Roy Keane took charge last November.

And while the Hull winger looked a bit rusty at times, he made a convincing case for his inclusion in Tbilisi on the strength of his set-pieces alone.

It was his near-post corner that led to the game’s opening goal on 20 minutes. Doyle stole half a yard on his marker and glanced the ball past Ali Al Habsi for his 14th international goal.

It continued a good week for the striker who secured his return to the Premier League on Monday with a loan to Crystal Palace.

Kevin Doyle scores the opening goal Kevin Doyle scored the game's opening goal. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Ireland’s second, scrambled home by Pearce in the 82nd minute, again came from a Brady corner.

Richard Keogh — the side’s captain for the evening — got enough of a touch to cause confusion in the Omani defence and his central defensive partner showed a striker’s touch to guide it beyond Al Habsi’s reach.

Oman might not be the most glamorous opposition; of their squad, only the Wigan keeper could be classed as a familiar face.

Manager Paul Le Guen acknowledged as much at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday evening when he offered to write out his starting XI and spare the gathered media any confusion.

But his side arrived in Dublin ranked 67th — just one place behind Ireland — and hoping to extend an unbeaten run of nine internationals which stretches back to June of last year.

That seemed to dictate their gameplan as they dropped 10 men behind the ball when Ireland were in possession, their compact 5-4-1 proving difficult to break down.

Aiden McGeady's goal attempt hits the crossbar Aiden McGeady hit the bar late on. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

O’Neill would surely have liked to see a bit more creativity from open play but clear-cut chances were rare. Wes Hoolahan and Stephen Quinn were the most impressive in the first half, linking play through the crowded middle, while man of the match David Meyler — who started at right-back — offered a lively attacking threat.

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After Doyle’s goal settled any Irish nerves, Brady nearly repeated the trick for a second on 32 minutes, this time with a deeper corner which Alex Pearce steered back across goal.

His header looked to be sneaking inside the post but Hassan Al Ghailani got back in the nick of time to scramble it from under the crossbar.

Meyler went close a few minutes later, his chip from the edge of the box beating Al Habsi but not the post.

Rob Elliot came on to replace Given at the break before O’Neill emptied the bench in the second half with Aiden McGeady, Robbie Keane and Shane Long all getting a half-hour to stretch their legs.

Their arrival gave Ireland’s attacks a bit more verve. McGeady could have scored on 68 minutes but after cutting back inside the substitute Ali Al Busaidi and beating Al Habsi, Mohammed Al Musalami slid in to clear his shot off the line.

The Everton winger hit the bar as well in the closing minutes after engineering another opportunity but by that stage, hearts and minds were very much on Georgia.

Ireland: Given (Elliot h/t), Meyler (Murphy 85), Keogh (c), Pearce, Ward, Pilkington (McGeady 59), Gibson (Whelan 70), Quinn, Brady, Hoolahan (Keane 59), Doyle (Long 59).

Subs not used: Forde, Wilson, Coleman, O’Shea, Stokes.

Oman: Al Habsi, S Al Mukhaini, Al Owaisi, Al Musalami, AS Al Mukhaini, Al Gheilani (Al Busaidi 60), Al Muhaijri (Al Jabri 60), Al Farsi (Al Muqbali 81), Saleh (Al Maashari 87), Hardan (Al Qasmi 60), Al Siyabi (Al Hadhri 76).

Subs not used: Al Rushidi, Al Zaabi, Al Nahar, Al Jalaboubi, Al Hasani, Almashari.

Referee: Ilias Spathas (Greece).

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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